Category Archives: Genre Months

Mighty Marvels: The Spider-Man Franchise(s)

Edited

*For an attempt at something a tad lighter than my usual reviews, here’s the first in a month-long series of reviews of various superhero film franchises (because I hear these are popular nowadays).

Spider-Man

While a somewhat unexpected choice at the time, in retrospect Sam Raimi was a perfect match to the goofy world of comic book fervor set up in Spider-Man. Taking a far larger budget than he’d ever worked with to create, of all things, a heavily marketed B movie, he ended up making one that works precisely because it is unabashedly in love with the fact that it is a B-movie, Snidely Whiplash-encrusted villain and all. While other films would come and go and do far more for comic book storytelling and character development in the process, Spider-Man does not bother with such trifles. For its whole running length, it is only itself, and it’s rather happy to be so at that. Continue reading

Bonus Genre Month Reviews:The Proposition and Brick

Or: a couple of short reviews I had penned and linked together in one of my patented “just made up on the spot” combinations, namely that they are both products of 2005, they are both depressingly cynical and nihilistic modern reflections of the long history of their respective genres, and they, respectively, fit into the genres I’ve covered in the past couple months: the western and film noir. Again, don’t think too much about why I posted these films together. Just enjoy the ride. 

Edited

The Proposition
220px-the_proposition_5The significant resurgence of the Western genre since about 2005 (for reasons I’m not entirely sure of) is one of the few truly surprisingly revelations from the cinematic world to be found this past decade. It’s all the more notable particularly because the Westerns themselves have taken so many different forms, from pure, effervescent myth-making, to black-hearted heaving gasps of grimy moral decay, to slowly gliding, almost Impressionist location tapestries where characters serve merely as extensions of the environment, to plain ol’ rootin-tootin shoot em’ up character studies.

One of the first, and among the absolute best, in this trend was John Hillcoat’s rusty nail mauling of the gaping, open wound flesh wound of Australian history, The Proposition. It wouldn’t emerge the best Western over the past ten years (my vote would probably go to the sensuous The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), but it’s within earshot of the title. Considering the film’s swaggering aimlessness and rough-around-the-edges decay, it may even graze that ear. Continue reading

Film Noirs and Cinematic Scars: Devil in a Blue Dress

xacqjmv07gparzha6reaFirst, a note: If not for plot synopses, I might write twice as many film reviews. A synopsis is that desperate time when I have to actually remember (!) what I just saw in narrative terms and commit violence upon my mental understanding of visual storytelling by reducing it to words on paper (well, internet paper) about the “plot” of a film. I have to pretend as though a paragraph explanation of the “event” of a film is an accurate description of what can make a film good or bad. It is no secret that I am a firm believer that just about any plot description can amount to a terrible film as much as a great one, and that it is the storytelling and not the “plot” that a story makes. So this causes me great dysfunction.

With that out of the way, a follow-up review!
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Film Noirs and Cinematic Scars: Kiss Me Deadly

Updated mid-2015

Kiss Me Deadly, released in 1955, is one of the last great classic period film noirs, but it wasn’t often acknowledged as such originally. It was fought by politicians and “moral” figures at the time of its release, seen as the kind of film dangerous teenage types went to see in hopes of engendering social subversion. And this concern, about the danger it posed to accepted, conservative social mores, was valid: not only is this a lurid and exploitative film, but it has the gall to elevate these qualities to high art and use them to reflect on the luridness and exploitation perhaps intrinsic to human nature. Continue reading

Film Noirs and Cinematic Scars: The Killing

Edited and Updated Mid-2016

It’s perhaps fitting that The Killing, a film so predicated on control and careful positioning was brought to life by a director who lived and breathed control and precision. It is usually considered director Stanley Kubrick’s first “mature” film, something which has two meanings here. Firstly, it’s the film where we see aspects of the filmmaker’s form and style come to fruition, including perhaps his most ubiquitous care:  his love of calculated, icy cold filmmaking, perniciously-formed and rigorous like clockwork mechanics, where humans don’t much matter at all except in their capacity to move event and process forward. The Killing is the kind of filmmaking which would define his later efforts and mark him as one of the great visual masters of contempt-ravaged cinema, and it is a particularly suited film, and film genre, the noir, for Kubrick to have cut his metallic teeth on. Continue reading

Film Noirs and Cinematic Scars: Laura

This being the first in a month-long film noir review series. 

A basic description of Otto Preminger’s Laura gives the impression of a typical film noir:  a woman is murdered and a detective tries to figure out who did it. Technically that’s an apt description, but it misses the forest for the trees. When one thinks of film noir, one imagines dark, hard-edged characters, masculine cynics who deal in obsession, and a film with a suitably single-minded focus, a film suffocating on pure mortal fear and sin. This is not Laura. Where we expect focus, we find malaise. Where we expect single-mindedness, we have a lackadaisical atmosphere. Where we expect desperation, we get pomp and circumstance. And where we expect something ruthlessly efficient, we find something that quietly sneaks up on you, is generally amused with itself, and befuddles at every turn. Continue reading

Wild Wild Best: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Edited

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a difficult film to review. Usually this means one of two things: the film was mediocre and I find myself struggling to say something substantive about it, or I’m fascinated by it but I have not yet figured out how to unlock its mysteries. Usually the latter means I will love the film for its confounding, maddening tension and hate it for the same reason, at least until I see it again. Neither of those is the case for Andrew Dominik’s second film. I know exactly what I think of this film, and it is far from mediocre. The issue with this review is quite simple: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was all-but made for me. And gushing over something does not a review make, so I must try to formulate my jumping up and down into something coherent. Here we go.

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Wild Wild Best: Unforgiven

Unforgiven is about as gutsy and ravaged a film as you’ll find from a mainstream American director, a work which not only deconstructs a genre of film but the filmmaker’s entire career. It’s seeped in merciless violence, but as much a violence which occurred decades before the film begins as any violence which occurs from first reel to denouement. It rolls over the arid hills of the American West, bathed in a dark, ominous red of the blood done in the past but which refuses to be forgotten. With Unforgiven, Eastwood not only tears down the violent core of America’s past, but he has a few choice words for the gaze we place upon violence in modern society. We’re fascinated with it. And Eastwood, a man whose career was built on celluloid violence, knows this well. He runs us through the wringer with quiet, elegiac visual poetry which provides us with a dreamy, mythic Western landscape and that turns out to be a nightmare clinging us to our past. This is cinema of implication, with Eastwood questioning whether we can ever break from the horror-show of the Western genre and underlining his question in blood-red strokes. Continue reading

Wild Wild Jest: Rango

When Rango was first announced, it seemed like a dream come true. An animated film starring a lizard that embraces and likely parodies the Western genre? Now there’s something for you. Unfortunately, there was that whole trailer thing … well, let’s just say the trailers were downright tepid and filled with jokes that seemed more clever than funny, products of a writer hopped up on his or her own ego. Continue reading

Wild Wild Jest: Dead Man

This being a review in a month-long exploration of the Western genre.

Update late 2018: After a re-watch, I’m not entirely satisfied with my original, college-age review. (Would that I ever was?). In particular, I find my more nihilistic reading of Dead Man to be hopelessly mired in my youth. In its interplay of shaken signifiers and layered meanings, Jarmusch’s film is never nihilistic. If it reduces the Western to a pageant, it also animates new possibilities for pageantry, retexturing the Western as a kind of poetry as Emersonian as it is Derridean, as open to reconnecting with space and nature as it is exposing its inabilities to do so. The film thrives on an immanent tension, and would that more films followed suit.

After all, if this film re-reads all films as lies, is not Dead Man part of that great filmic canard as well? Dead Man is not “truth”, nor does it want to be. It’s a self-reflexive, filmic op-ed piece, overstated for pure effect. In its untethering from reality, it associatively overlays, blurs, and emulsifies various images and sounds together in new, unexpected ways, shattering pre-established truths and restitching them with an eye not for their cohesion but their imaginative associations, for the spaces in between them, for the breakages and fractures which expose the stitching of reality and the potential for reorganizing sound, space, and mind to new ends. A lyrical expression of the Western as out-of-body experience, it not only critiques the genre; it breaks it, and resurrects it as something anew. What it ultimately imagines is not anti-Western, really, but a new, hopefully prognostic breed of cinema, one not only interested in excoriating the Western myth but also in conjuring a new, more mutable one, a vision of the Western as self-critical, poetic play. I’ll keep the original review up for posterity’s sake, but read at your own risk!

Original Review (Edited mid-2015):

Dead Man is a revisionist Western, sure, but there have been many great revisionist Westerns (look to Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven from three years before-hand for ample evidence). There certainly have not, however, been many movies like Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s attempt at creating not a gritty non-myth but an anti-myth –  and it’s a marvel of marrying acidic form to acerbic content. This is not only a revisionist Western, but an anti-revisionist Western, an anti-Western, even an anti-film. Continue reading